Doc gets prison time for drug sales

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A physician who moonlighted as a drug dealer has been sentenced to 18 months in federal prison.

Michael LaPaglia, 49, was also ordered to pay restitution to the health care providers who were “victims in the case,” according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

LaPaglia, who had already lost his ability to write controlled substance prescriptions, had pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiring to distribute controlled substances and making a material false statement in connection with the delivery of health care benefits. 

According to federal authorities, LaPaglia was involved in a mobile Suboxone clinic through which he issued prescriptions in the name of another doctor for Suboxone, clonazepam, diazepam and pregabalin. 

“Investigators learned that LaPaglia would meet patients at his home and in parking lots where, without any meaningful examination, LaPaglia would give the drug customers prescriptions (signed by another doctor) for controlled substances,” the release said.

“Customers were charged $300 cash per monthly visit. The customers would then take their prescriptions to be filled at pharmacies, where a number of them used their health insurance to pay for the controlled substances.”

LaPaglia’s downfall promoted several high-ranking federal officials to issue statements about the case.

For instance, Joseph E. Carrico—who heads the Knoxville FBI office— said that authorities will continue to target doctors who abuse their powers.

“Tennessee remains at the epicenter of the opioid crisis. Opioid abuse destroys lives, and it devastates families,” Carrico said. “It is extremely disappointing when caregivers allow greed and selfishness to violate their oath to help those in need. The FBI along with our federal, state, and local partners will continue to investigate and hold those accountable to face the consequences of their actions.”

Derrick L. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General in Atlanta, voiced similar thoughts. 

“Protecting the health and safety of Medicare and Medicaid patients is our number one priority,” he said. “This provider’s reckless actions not only eluded his prescribing restrictions but endangered the health and safety of these patients.”

The charges against LaPaglia were brought as part of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse initiative, a comprehensive national strategy that focuses on investigations and prosecutions of medical providers who prescribe opioids outside of the course of professional medical practice and for no legitimate purpose, the release said.

“The public places great trust in our medical professionals, and our office is committed to safeguarding that trust through the vigorous enforcement of federal laws,” said Acting United States Attorney Francis M. Hamilton III. “Doctors are supposed to help people, not hurt them, and those who abuse their position by illegally prescribing opioids will be prosecuted.”

The case against LaPaglia was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Anne-Marie Svolto and David Lewen.

Published on June 3, 2021